Empanadas vs Pastelitos: Origins, Dough, and Traditional Recipes Explored

Empanadas and pastelitos have distinct origins and dough types, with empanadas tracing back to Spain and Portugal, influenced by Arabian pies, while pastelitos originated in Cuba with a lighter, crimped dough.

what is the difference between empanadas and pastelitos

Before hot pockets became a thing, many people in Latin countries enjoyed a popular street food called empanadas which are typically turnover-shaped pies with various fillings.

The differences between empanadas and pastelitos comes down to history and dough.

Empanada Pastelito Empanadas vs Pastelitos: Origins, Dough, and Traditional Recipes Explored

The history of empanadas dates back hundreds of years to the Portugal and Spain region, back when Spain was called Galicia. The first versions began appearing at the same time the area was under invasion by the Moors.

The first recorded recipe for empanadas can be found in a 1520 cookbook published in Catalan, which referenced empanadas that were filled with seafood.

Food historians believe that empanadas and the Italian calzone are both offshoots of the Arabic meat-filled pies known as samosas.

The original versions in Portugal and Spain (Galicia) featured a larger pie that was cut into smaller pieces for workers seeking a portable travel meal. The filling for these ancient empanadas usually consisted of sardines, tuna, or chorizo.

However, they sometimes had pork loin or codfish. The meat is usually in a version of garlic, tomato, and onion sauce enclosed in a pastry or bread casing.

Because of the numerous Galacian immigrants who migrated to Latin America, the original “empanada gallega” is still very popular in that region.

Empanadas grew in popularity in the Philippines and Latin America thanks to Spanish colonists.

As for pastelitos, they originated in Cuba. The working historical culinary theory is that they were created by slaves working in Spanish sugar mills.

Yet, there’s another theory that claims they were invented by Cuban housewives who served the dish as an appetizer or side dish for the main entree.

The first recipes for pastelitos began showing up in cookbooks around the 1930s. However, food historian Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra says that references to a similar pastry called “pasteles” date back to 1843.

There are two traditional Cuban pastelito recipes, Pastelitos de Carne, which has a mix of seasoned beef picadillo with the crust brushed with simple syrup, and Pastelitos de Guayaba, which has a mix of guava fruit paste and cream cheese.

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What are the differences between empanadas and pastelitos?

While they can sometimes have a similar appearance, fillings, and methods of cooking (baked or fried), empanadas and pastelitos are very different.

#1. History

As mentioned earlier, pastelitos and empanadas come from two different origins. Pastelitos originated in Cuba.

And empanadas predate pastelitos, originating in Spain (Galicia) and Portugal and are an offshoot of Arabian meat pies that date back to the Neolithic period, which is roughly around 9500 BC.

#2. Dough

Pastelitos are generally smaller and use a thinner or lighter dough that’s crimped around the edges before traditionally being fried.

Empanadas use a heavier or thicker dough, have rolled edges, and can also be baked or fried. The difference in the dough is much like the difference between crescent rolls and regular rolls.

There’s some debate over whether premade dough, such as the Goya brand, can be used to make pastelitos. Goya round flats are often used as a “shortcut.”

But, the truth is, if you want authentic pastelito dough, you’ll need to make it by hand. That said, if you can’t make the dough from scratch, use puff pastry dough for the next best thing.

Empanada Recipes

Empanada Empanadas vs Pastelitos: Origins, Dough, and Traditional Recipes Explored
Cheese empanada, meat empanada or chicken empanada, on a white plate. Empanada (meat pie) – traditional snack originally from Spain.


Galacian-Style Chicken Empanada

Although Spain is no longer called Galacia, the name is still the name of its northwestern region. Here people still enjoy empanadas based on original recipes.

This version has ingredients like peppers, tomatoes, chicken, garlic, and white wine with a homemade crust.

Chipotle Pulled Pork Empanadas

This spicy chipotle pulled pork empanadas recipe has a golden, crispy, flaky crust filled with juicy seasoned pulled pork.

It also has deliciously seasoned veggies; you can add some cheese to the recipe. Add some of your favorite salsa and sour cream.


Spinach and cheese empanadas

For a healthy meatless treat, try this recipe for spinach and cheese empanadas, filled with ricotta cheese, garlic, spinach, and Parmesan.

You can either bake or fry them, and they come out bursting with flavor. Just make sure you don’t roll the dough too thin.

Spicy blackbean and corn empanadas

Another great vegetarian option is these spicy corn and black bean empanadas filled with pepper, corn, vegan cheese, black beans, and lots of yummy seasonings.

These healthy pockets of goodness are super easy to make, and you can fry or bake them.


Apple Caramel

Taco Bell used to have these mind-blowingly delicious caramel-apple empanadas that I used to go nuts over.

Sadly, they no longer carry them on the menu, but once I found this recipe, my smile quickly turned upside down! And by the way, these are so much better!


Hot, golden brown empanadas with a sweet, red, delicious strawberry filling sound like the stuff dreams are made of, but I can assure you they are very real and crazy good to boot! If you don’t have strawberries, strawberry pie filling or preserves will work too.

Pastelito Recipes

Pastelito Empanadas vs Pastelitos: Origins, Dough, and Traditional Recipes Explored


Pastelitos de Carne

This Pastelitos de Carne recipe is filled with authentic Cuban ingredients such as garlic, bell pepper, onion, ground beef, tomato, raisins, capers, and more to create an unbelievable flavor like nothing you’ve ever tried. And the puff pastry dough delivers a next-to-perfect crust.


Vegan pastelitos de carne y queso


For those who don’t eat meat or wish for a non-meat option, this recipe for Vegan Pastelitos de Carne y queso is just the thing to make your tastebuds sing.

They are filled with bell pepper, onion, non-dairy mozzarella cheese, oyster mushrooms, and delicious seasonings.


Pastelitos de Guayaba

This recipe represents an authentic Cuban experience that’s second to none. These puff pastry tarts are filled with delicious guava fruit paste and yummy cream cheese wrapped in a golden flakey crust.

FAQs about Empanadas & Pastelitos

What are 3 types of empanadas?

The three main varieties of empanadas include meat, vegetable, and fruit-filled. Some examples include:

Beef empanadas, Apple-caramel empanadas, Potato empanadas, Cherry empanadas, Shrimp empanadas, Chicken and cheese empanadas, Egg and bacon empanadas, and Bean empanadas.

What are empanadas called in Mexico?

In Mexico, empanadas are among many popular street foods under the umbrella term “antojitos.” They are generally fast, inexpensive, and very delicious. And empanadas are among the most popular types of antojitos you can find throughout the country, with a wide variety to choose from as well as ways to make them.

What are empanadas called in Puerto Rico?

In Puerto Rico, there is still a raging debate going on concerning what to call empanadas. Some of the different names include pastelillo, empanadilla, pastel, empanada, etc. However, it’s said that everything is commonly called empanadillas on the south side of the island, while in the north and center, the preferred term is pastelillo.

What is the difference between an empanada and a empanadilla?

Empanadas are turnovers with various fillings, such as meat, usually eaten for dinner, while empanadillas are smaller and traditionally eaten for lunch. Basically, an Empanadilla is a smaller version of an empanada.

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